Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ben Stein: Crouching theocon, hidden nit-wit

Take a look at Ben Stein’s Introductory Blog on the website for the movie, "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." Being a speech writer for Republican presidents, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, one might suspect he was a theocon waiting to pounce. But I didn't know until recently that the man was a nit-wit. He's a financial columnist for the New York Times and he seemed so smart on his Comedy Central show “Win Ben Stein’s Money.” Such is the magic of television that it can make utter morons appear to be geniuses.

But a nit-wit he must be for only a nit-wit would repeat a creationist lie so obviously false that it only takes a few minutes on Google to prove it utterly wrong, and that's what Ben Stein did.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's look at some of what Stein wrote:

...a new anti-religious dogmatism, scientists and educators are not allowed to even think thoughts that involve an intelligent creator. Do you realize that some of the leading lights of “anti-intelligent design” would not allow a scientist who merely believed in the possibility of an intelligent designer/creator to work for him… EVEN IF HE NEVER MENTIONED the possibility of intelligent design in the universe? EVEN FOR HIS VERY THOUGHTS… HE WOULD BE BANNED.

Wow! He thinks atheists can read minds! Well, he's right, we can. I guess Sam Harris will be hooking up every scientist in America to his fMRI machine and then firing the ones who believe in God. Alas we don't have the money to put them all in an fMRI machine and I'm sure the courts would never allow it if we could. Besides, Sam Harris doesn't have the authority to fire anyone. In fact, most scientists are hired and fired by non-scientists. So, even if the majority of scientists are atheistic and agnostic most of their careers depend on business men, college administrators, politicians and others who are in the majority religious people.

And then Ben Stein digs his hole even deeper: America, an Einstein or a Newton or a Galileo would probably not be allowed to receive grants to study or to publish his research.

They cannot even mention the possibility that–as Newton or Galileo believed–these laws were created by God or a higher being. They could get fired, lose tenure, have their grants cut off. This can happen. It has happened.

The idea that the laws of physics, as discovered by Einstein, Newton and Galileo, were created by God or a higher being is not Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design as it is defined by its major proponents is about biology, not physics. Intelligent Design is the claim that Darwin could not have been right because certain features of life are too irreducibly complex for evolution to create. Darwin himself answered that argument and admitted that if it could be demonstrated that any feature of life that couldn't be arrived at in a long series of gradual steps he would be proved wrong. The lie of ID is the claim that they have proven this -- they have not. It has been demonstrated that the features that ID proponents have claimed were irreducibly complex were not in fact so. For example, the bacterial flagellum; Biochemistry professor Michael Behe, an ID proponent who hasn't so far been fired for supporting ID, claimed the bacterial flagellum was irreducibly complex but during the Dover trail it was shown that the bacterial flagellum could be produced by the gradual stages of evolution called for by Darwin. In fact, nature still retains many of the not quite flagellums that it may have evolved from.

Ben Stein is also claiming that an Einstein or a Newton or a Galileo would probably not be allowed to receive grants to study or to publish his research. What exactly does it mean to be an Einstein or a Newton or a Galileo? Just believing in some kind of God? Does it mean being a "creationist"? If he means a creationist, he shouldn't have Einstein on the list. Einstein wasn't even Christian. Newton and Galileo could be called creationists, but that's because they died before Darwin was born. We don't know what they would have made of Darwin's arguments.

Assuming he means their belief in God this is what I mean when I say it only takes a few minutes on Google to prove it utterly wrong because I can not only find working scientists who believe in God I can find prominent evolutionary biologists who believe in God, who claim to be Christian, and who are still working and getting grants. Here are a few names for you:

Kenneth R. Miller of Brown University. Working biologist who wrote "Finding Darwin's God."

Francis Collins, physical chemist, medical geneticist and head of the Human Genome Project. A very successful working biologist who wrote a book entitled “The Language of God.”

Michael J. Behe, still a professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University in spite of writing several ID books.

If Michael J. Behe is still working and getting published how can Ben Stein claim ID proponents will be fired? By the example of a few who claimed they were fired because of their beliefs? I bet I could come up with atheists who make the claim they were fired for their atheism.


Allen MacNeill has some comments on Panda's thumb that further indite the Expelled film maker's agenda.

...unlike PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins, the interviews with Will [Provine] and I were not included in the film. Why not? Because (as many posters at this site are well aware), we regularly invite ID proponents (such as Michael Behe, John Sanford, Hannah Maxson, and Phillip Johnson, among many others) to make presentations in our evolution courses at Cornell. But this fact would clash in an unfortunate way with the premise of the film, which is that “Darwinists” unfairly discriminate against ID supporters and creationists.

In other words, “Expelled” is a propaganda piece, pure and simple, as are virtually all of the public pronouncements of the Discovery Institute and their supporters. Scientists don’t make propaganda movies (although we are sometimes invited to participate in them under fraudulent pretenses). No, we go out into the field and the laboratory and investigate nature.

Some people do give ID a hearing. However, that's at the University level. At the high school level there has already been a trial concerning the presentation of Intelligent Design in a public high school. It was Kitzmiller v. Dover. According to U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III: "Intelligent Design is a religious view, not a scientific theory."

Would Ben Stein speak up for historians who were fired from teaching history for questioning the Holocaust? Would he support teachers in public high schools who wanted to teach astrology? How about drivers ed instructors who want to teach that speed limits, stop signs, and red lights are mere suggestions?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Religion as a force for ignorance and delusion

Over at there's an article, "The coming religious peace," by Alan Wolfe, originally from The Atlantic magazine.

The article came with a graph that suggests that there is an inverse correlation between a country's religiosity and its per capita GDP, or, in simpler terms, the more religious a country is, the poorer it will be:


Toward the right and bottom corner of the graph are the most-prosperous and irreligious countries. At the very bottom is Western Europe, where, as Mr. Wolfe says, "God, if not dead, has only a faint pulse." Here we find Sweden, Britan and France.

Toward the left and top corner, poor yet very religious countries like Nigeria, Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt.

There are some exceptions to the trend, countries that don't quite line up on the trend line, like Kuwait and the United States. However, both countries happen to have a greater share of valuable natural resources. Kuwait is oil rich and the United States was also once oil wealthy, but we peaked back in the 1970s and started importing, as well as having an abundance of other natural resources. And there are plenty of countries not on the list, like Saudi Arabia, I assume it is wealthy and religious, and Estonia which I think is irreligious and poor which might make one question how this chart was put together.

Was it edited to create that trend line? I doubt it. It's from the Pew Global Attitudes Project and Pew isn't known to skew data against religion.

But even if the sampling is truly random the graph still doesn't prove that religion and GDP are causually connected. Certainly other factors are probably contributing to the various clusters of countries on that graph. Also, as I've said before, correlation just doesn't automatically equal causality and just because we'd like something to be true, doesn't make it true. However, in this case it might be possible to establish a rather obvious mechanism for how, at least certain forms of, religiosity contribute to the poverty of a country.

If you read PZ Myers' blog, Pharyngula, then you probably already know where I'm going with this. PZ is always ranting against some creationist and pointing out their ignorance, lies and delusions. It gets repetitive because the creationists are repetitive.

For example, a recent post by PZ in this regard is "Florida: Land of the Delusional." It's a short commentary on Donna Callaway's editorial in the Florida Baptist Witness that makes clear, yet again, that her reasons for rejecting evolution are religious.

Callaway masks her desire to impose her brand of ideological ignorance in a call for "student rights," "her religious identity" and "the example of Jesus as a master teacher." She is clearly, as PZ says, "swaddled in meters-thick layers of delusion" having "drunk deep of the Kool-Aid." And this kind of religiously inspired ignorance has economic consequences. Donna Callaway wants to change the way our children are educated. And this old chart, which corresponds roughly with the economic chart, is a measure of the success people like Callaway have had:


Many of the countries where acceptance of evolution is high are those same high GDP western European countries on the first chart, like Sweden and France. Japan is also high in accepting evolution and high on GDP. And the low GDP countries are also generally there, like Turkey, low on accepting evolution and low on GDP.

It's not hard to see why and predict it will get worse. It's one of the things that came out during the Dover trial, the way Behe wanted to redefine what science was to the point where astrology became a science. Rejecting evolution necessarily implies rejecting all the kinds of scientific thought processes that lead us to accept it. And those scientific thought processes are economically important, now more so than ever.

We’re now living in the 21st century and our economies are going to be more and more scientifically and technologically driven. It's not just the obvious new fields, like biotech and genetic engineering, which are only recently becoming economically important enough to significantly effect GDP. It's also older scientific knowledge bases, like geologists hired by the oil industry to use a knowledge of Earth's deep history to find oil.

While there are indeed Christian biologists, for example, Francis Collins and Ken Miller, who can accept the theory of evolution and remain self-identified as Christians they are not typical of either Christians or scientists.

While scientists are more atheistic than the rest of the population generally, those who publish in peer reviewed journals, the serious hard core scientists, are even more atheistic than those who merely have a degree. The more "hard core" the scientists the more atheistic.

I offer this to you as a question: Is atheism economically important?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

BRING IT ON!!! Science Debate 2008

I just got an email from Chris Mooney and he urgently wants bloggers and writers to start making noise about Science Debate 2008 because as of now, the candidates have been officially invited.

So, be there or be Huckabee squared.

That's right: Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Barack Obama have been invited to ScienceDebate2008. It will be held at Philadelphia's Franklin Institute on April 18, just before the Pennsylvania Primary.

Mooney wants his flying monkey brigade science friendly bloggers to make a ton of noise about the debate. He wants to force the campaigns to say they'll come.

I'll give Chris the last word on this:

So please, if you were ever going to blog again on the science debate idea, do it now. Mobilize your readers. A list of things they can do--contacting the campaigns, writing letters to the editor, further spreading word about ScienceDebate2008--and how they can do them can be found here: